Of Note-Taking and Commonplace Books—A Ramble

I don’t follow a lot of booktubers, but I always get excited when RC Waldun drops a video. Our reading interests don’t overlap a ton (he’s heavily into philosophy and the Beats), but I enjoy his approach to literature. It’s been fun to watch, over the years, how he’s thrown himself wholeheartedly into his channel and living out his love of books. He’s kind of like the Reviewbrah of booktube—legends, both of them.

I digress! Robin’s latest video is an update on commonplace books and how he takes notes:

As a fellow lifelong student, I find this topic to be utterly fascinating. I spent half my childhood using a shared family computer, so physical notebooks (and the privacy they offer) have been part of my life forever. I have always kept a journal, and most of my creative writing started on paper.

On the other hand, I have also been blogging since 2009 on Blogger, Tumblr, and now WordPress. In a way, those are my real commonplace books. They are a bit more edited than my raw thoughts, it is true, but the blog is the certain destination for most of my thoughts on literature, and a few other things besides.

I have mixed feelings about this. Blogging is what made me a decent writer—the whole experience of blogging cannot be replicated as a solo endeavor. Sometimes I wish I had physical copies of my reviews, though. There’s really nothing to stop me from printing them out. I just don’t think to, you know? Also, that’s more stuff. I do usually print out my notes from videos I’ve made or podcasts I’ve recorded, and I feel very happy that I did that. It’s a tangible reminder of achievements I tend to forget, and that can be inspiring. Maybe printing out the best ones is the way to go.

I have attempted to use physical notebooks for literary thoughts. The two pictured at the top of this post contain notes from the past few years, mainly from various book clubs and discussions. (I take care to label who’s saying what and not claim others’ brilliant ideas for my own. ๐Ÿ˜† ) However, I haven’t been diligent in using these notebooks. Little Penguin still has some room left…

The electronic notebook, such as Robin demonstrates, is an interesting prospect. I have an iPad and a Pencil, which, when it was working, was pretty cool (the Pencil really does feel like you’re writing, not using a stylus). But tablets are still a pretty tedious UX. Charging the device, turning on the device, syncing the Pencil, opening the right app(s)… Even just jumping on my computer for 5 minutes and typing out some thoughts is a lot faster. I read at home most of the time, anyway. It’s hard to read in public.

As I’ve been writing this post and reflecting on the options, I think this sort of system works best for me:

  • Jot notes on a little notebook (get more disciplined about doing this)
  • Be more intentional about using my blog as a commonplace book.
  • Print/save the best stuff in a scrapbook or portfolio.

Let me know in the comments if you keep a commonplace book, or how you like to keep notes! (If you say marking up the book, I’ll try to forgive you. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )


  1. I was a physical journaler from 1997 to 2009, roughly, though it’s something I keep Intending to resurrect. After 2007, when I began reading a LOT of nonfiction, I started using the back sides of journal pages to write down quotes, so it became a commonplace book. Unfotunately, I lost one of these — the most interesting one — when I was moving back, and I was so discouraged it put me off writing down quotes and from physical journaling altogether. Plus, around that time I was working out my thoughts and getting my writing fix through not only This Week at the Library (which became Reading Freely) but my Let Me Be Frank blog, which I’d created as a way to process my thinking after I left Pentecostalism and became a skeptic/secular humanist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, moving… I’m barely recovered from my second move in two years. :/ Books can be a literal pain!

      Another plus of digital notetaking is that it’s easily searchable. I’ve not infrequently searched my own blogs to find things. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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